Storm Drains and Water Quality

It is the responsibility of the citizens to properly dispose of household wastes to reduce the sources of nonpoint-source pollution that threaten our water resources.

Storm drains are the square metal grates found at the sides or corners of streets. They are designed to collect storm water and melting snow off of streets and other paved surfaces to help prevent flooding.

When it begins to rain, the first drops soak into the ground. Once the soil is saturated, or if the soil has been replaced by an impervious barrier, the rain runs along the surface and is caught in the storm drains.

As the rainfall runs down the streets and through yards, the water picks up debris and garbage. This “runoff” frequently contains materials that pollute our waterways, harm wildlife, and degrade water quality. Common contaminates in stormwater may include lawn chemicals, pet waste, household chemicals like paint, soaps used for washing cars, oil, and grease. Even products advertised as “nontoxic” or “biodegradable” are not safe for our waterways either. While this type of pollution may be small from a single household, it becomes a big problem when you consider the waste from thousands of homes in a neighborhood, town, or city. The effect is a deluge of dirt, trash, and toxics that produce more water pollution than all the sewage and industrial plants in the nation.

Sediment, pesticides, and debris will find its way into waterways and seriously harm water quality. This causes a reduction of vital oxygen in the water; disruption of the habitat for the plants and animals that make the river their home; and diseases that can create human health problems.

What can you do to help?

Following are some steps to take to limit runoff and make sure the runoff stays clean.

  • Lawn Chemicals

    Follow label instructions and never apply before rain or watering the lawn unless directed. Avoid over using fertilizers. Determine the needs of your soil and apply only the necessary amendments.

  • Pet Wastes
    Pet waste is raw sewage that releases potentially harmful bacteria and oxygen-consuming materials if it is allowed to enter our waterways. When walking your pet, remember to pick up and dispose of the waste properly.
  • Motor Oil
    Motor oil damages or kills underwater vegetation and aquatic life. One gallon of used motor oil can contaminate 1,000,000 gallons of water. In the United States, do-it-yourself motor oil changers improperly dispose 192,000,000 gallons of used motor oil into our environment. That is more than 17 times the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez. Put used motor oil into a sealed container and take it to a used motor oil collection site. Do not mix used motor oil with any other substance.
  • Yard Wastes
    Yard wastes such as leaves and grass clippings clog storm drains making them ineffective in collecting storm water and leading to local flooding. Soil that erodes from your yard increases the sediment load in waterways, blocks the sunlight necessary for aquatic plants, and suffocates animals. Remove soil, leaves, and grass clippings from the paved area around your house. Collect the leaves and grass clippings and compost them. Leave vegetation on slopes to hold soil in place. Mulch and seed bare soil as soon as possible. DO NOT DISCHARGE MOWER CLIPPINGS INTO THE STREET!!!
  • Street Litter and Plastics
    Street litter such as plastic bags, cups, candy wrappers, and cigarette butts are washed from the streets by stormwater and end up in area streams and lakes. Many animals mistake plastic for food and after eating it, they become sick. Put all garbage, including cigarette butts and fast food containers, into garbage cans. Occasionally pick up any garbage on your street that might be washed into a storm drain.

The government has enacted legislation aimed at improving water quality. However, it is the responsibility of the citizens to properly dispose of household wastes to reduce the sources of nonpoint-source pollution that threaten our water resources. We are all part of the problem. We can all be part of the solution.

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